What will Google do with US firm's scary robots? - video

Speculation search giant will create 'humanoid helpers' from Boston Dynamics' agile robots

LAST UPDATED AT 11:24 ON Tue 17 Dec 2013

WHAT does Google want with a US company that makes scary-looking four-legged robots capable of running across rugged terrain?

That's the question of the lips of many technology analysts after it was revealed that the search giant had acquired the privately-held US firm Boston Dynamics.

Boston Dynamics is well known to YouTube users thanks to the clips it has posted online showing some of its creations in action. The best-known is BigDog, a four-legged robot that can scramble up muddy hills and race across flat surfaces. It has also developed another quadruped called WildCat which can run faster than a human, The Guardian says.

Other videos the company has posted online show a vehicle called SandFlea that can jump about 30 feet into the air and a pair of "disturbingly lifelike" robots called PetMan and Atlas (above).

Although PetMan looks like something from a sci-fi movie it's actually "more of an elaborate mannequin than a functional robot," says the Belfast Telegraph. "Its unsupported walking motion and displays of light calisthenics are all designed to stress-test protective clothing that will shield troops against chemical attacks".

All this technology - which has attracted the keen interest of the US military - is now in the hands of Google. The big question is: what will they do with it?

The Guardian says the purchase has been driven by Google's "secretive" robotics division which is led by Andy Rubin, the former boss of the company's Android mobile operating system. The division has swallowed eight other robotics companies this year.  

The ExtremeTech website says the acquisition of Boston Dynamics confirms that Google is "seriously - and rather suddenly - interested in robots". It speculates that the company may be planning some kind of "synergistic and masterful play to integrate its AI (artificial intelligence) and machine learning software algorithms with humanoid helper robots".

When Rubin was appointed head of the robotics division, Google said he would be working on "moonshots". In 'Googlese', ExtremeTech explains, that means a "crazy, seemingly impossible idea that, prodded along by the right leadership and aided with a preternatural dollop of innovation, might just work".

Other projects being developed by the search engine company include a self-driving car and Calico, an offshoot focusing on "health and well-being, in particular the challenge of aging and associated diseases".

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